Do you see that photo atop this post? It’s a very nice photo of a very nice hallway, and unfortunately, I have’t had the opportunity to check out this hallway on my own yet. The hallway, you see, is the first major part of Santiago Calatrava’s PATH hub to open in Lower Manhattan, and it may be the world’s most expensive hallway.
The corridor — the so-called World Trade Center West Concourse — reopened for the first time since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks toward the end of October. It provides an underground walkway beneath the West Side Highway from the PATH station to the Brookfield Place Pavilion and the ferry terminal. No longer will pedestrians have to cross over the Vecsey Street bridge; rather, they can use this gilded underground walkway instead. Eventually, this marble-lined passageway will connect to the PATH terminal and the east corridor, but the PATH building won’t be fully completed until 2015.
“The World Trade Center will be more than a place to work or visit,” Port Authority Executive Director Pat Foye said in a statement. “This will also be an unparalleled destination in a premier business location in the heart of a world-class city. This vital connection is another major step toward fulfilling our vision of creating a vibrant, dynamic and transit-oriented World Trade Center site.”
So how much does this passageway cost? As Stephen Smith, now writing for Next City, found out earlier this week, the price tag on what amounts to an underground corridor was “approximately” $225 million. Smith notes that for the same amount of money, some European cities can build subway stations and a few kilometers of tunnels, but in New York, $225 million nets an ornate walkway of a few hundred feet. When nothing else gets built after the PATH train, East Side Access and the first phase of the Second Ave. Subway all see the light of revenue service, this will be why.
Smith offers up a short history lesson as well on the $4.5 billion PATH hub. It was all, he writes, Eliot Spitzer’s fault:
The station and passageway were designed by budget-busting starchitect Santiago Calatrava, and narrowly escaped a cost-cutting attempt back in 2008. Eliot Spitzer’s Port Authority chief, Anthony Shorris, wanted to scrap the elaborate underground elements of the subway station — including this passageway, as well as others that have yet to open — in an effort to keep the project within its then-budget of around $2.5 billion. But Spitzer’s prostitution scandal forced him to resign, and when David Paterson assumed office, he and his Port Authority chief were more concerned with opening the World Trade Center memorial by the 10th anniversary of 9/11. The cost-cutting plan went out the window.
I’ve said a lot over the years about the excesses of the Calatrava PATH Hub and the need for Port Authority oversight and a realignment of spending priorities. Nowhere, though, is this point more obvious than in this hallway. Someone, somewhere decided that a quarter of a billion dollars would be best spent in an underground passageway that runs for a few hundred feet under a road that’s busy, but not that busy, to prove a point. When politicians and planners start to bemoan that it’s too expensive to build and that projects are too costly for New York City, remember this hallway for it is the beginning of the end.